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Wilderness Society puts North Fork on high risk list

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A report released by The Wilderness Society raises the alarm about Colorado's upper North Fork of the Gunnison Watershed, along with other wild lands across the U.S. threatened by extractive industries eager to exploit the resources on or underneath them, including oil, gas and coal.

'Too Wild To Drill' identifies 15 unique places found on public lands that are at high risk of drilling, mining and other development.

"This report is a wake-up call to people who love the wild backcountry and national forests around McClure Pass," said Jeff Schwartz, owner of Delicious Orchards Farm Market and Big B's Juices & Hard Ciders. "And to those of us who rely on the clean water that flows from these mountain watersheds. Oil and gas development will enrich private interests but take too much away from the North Fork Valley and its ecology, economy, health and recreation. These public lands and our water sources must be protected."

Energy development impacts, resulting from infrastructure like well pads, oil rigs, roads, fences and pipelines, include air and water pollution from spills, chemicals and dust, as well as phenomena like industrial traffic, gas flares and other light pollution, and loud noise that can disrupt communities and wildlife.

"Some places are simply too wild to drill," said Jim Ramey of The Wilderness Society. "The federal government must resist pressure from energy companies and other special interests to open up our last remaining wild places for development."

According to the report, the North Fork area is facing a range of development threats, including several new oil and gas development schemes, active drilling in adjacent leases, and likely renewed efforts to open even more public lands in the area to this activity.

The Wilderness Society issues a new version of 'Too Wild To Drill' every few years to call attention to vulnerable places on public lands. In this edition, places highlighted include the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, one of the most remote and wild places left in the world.

"The Interior Department is required by Congress to manage, on behalf of the American people, almost 450 million acres of public lands for many different purposes, not just energy extraction," Ramey said. "Yet oil, gas and coal have long had an outsized influence -- and footprint -- on public lands. It is long past time that we take some of these lands off the table."

"We must protect our wildest places for future generations, and the upper North Fork is one of those places," said Alex Johnson, executive director of the Western Slope Conservation Center. "Just up the hill we have world-class elk and mule deer populations, moose, bear, and even mountain goats, all thanks to the unspoiled streams, parks and forests of the region. We can't sell out this place for short-term oil and gas company profits."

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